Todd Pletcher's career has been filled with sparkling highlights, but the prestigious $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) has been a frustration to him. The two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer sends out Bandini in Monday's renewal of the popular "Met Mile" at Belmont Park.Seven older horses were entered in the Met Mile, a race that has been won by the likes of Kelso, Buckpasser, Forego, Holy Bull and Ghostzapper.
"You've got to be a lot of horse to get it done in this race," Pletcher said. "They're going to break and they're going to run the whole time. It's a demanding race and I think you could argue that sometimes a mile is the most demanding distance. There have been a lot of successful stallions that won the Met Mile."Pletcher had the favorite in 2002 with Left Bank, who finished fifth. In 2004, Pletcher's Strong Hope ran third as the 9-5 chalk. Last year he had the second wagering choice in Forest Danger, who finished a well-beaten fifth behind the then-reigning Horse of the Year, Ghostzapper. "We have not been particularly lucky in this race," Pletcher said. "Hopefully, we're due."Bandini, by Fusaichi Pegasus , Bandini won the Blue Grass (gr. I) at Keeneland and was the third wagering choice in the 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). But after finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby, Bandini underwent surgery to remove an ankle chip. Bandini returned from nearly 10 months off on March 1 at Gulfstream Park and put forth one of his best efforts ever, winning a third-level allowance. That race, like the Met Mile, was run at a one-turn mile. Bandini fought tooth and nail for the lead after breaking from an inside post, shrugging off numerous challengers. "He overcame some adversity," Pletcher said. "It was his first start since the Derby and I was really pleased with it."Bandini stayed undefeated in 2006, winning the 1 1/8-mile Skip Away (gr. III) on April 1 as the 2-5 favorite. Bandini drew post 3 under jockey Garrett Gomez.Trainer Nick Zito, another conditioner seeking his first win in the Met Mile, has Sun King this time.Sun King, a colt by 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic, enters the Met Mile on the heels of an impressive victory in Keeneland's Commonwealth (gr. II) on April 15. Sun King was 11th early in the seven-furlong Commonwealth before he turned on the afterburners and won comfortably going away.
"He responded nicely in that race," Zito said. "I think one-turn sprints will open up new doors for him. I had to think about putting him in the Met Mile, but he's training great."Sun King drew post 2 with jockey Rafael Bejarano.Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. entered a pair of horses in Silver Train and New York Hero. Silver Train, of course, won last year's TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Belmont. Overall, he owns three wins from five starts at Belmont Park. New York Hero, meanwhile, won his first and only start for Dutrow at Aqueduct on April 7.Silver Train, who also won Belmont's Jerome (gr. II) last fall, is out to regain some lost luster. He is winless in a pair of starts this season after finishing seventh in the Richter Scale (gr. II) at Gulfstream and second in an Aqueduct allowance race. "He's going to have show up, but I like the way he's training," Dutrow said. "I won't be upset if he's in front."Silver Train might be leading the Met Mile field up the backstretch from post 4.Sir Greeley won a swiftly run Westchester Handicap at Belmont and should be rolling late for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Mass Media upset the Forego (gr. I) at Saratoga last summer and goes out for trainer Bobby Frankel, a four-time winner of the Met Mile. Wilko has gone winless in 10 starts since upsetting the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Lone Star Park. This is his first start back in the U.S. since running third in the March 25 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) for trainer Jeremy Noseda. $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I, Race 8, 4:48 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Mass Media (KY), 116, Javier Castellano
2. Sun King (KY), 118, Rafael Bejarano
3. Bandini (KY), 119, Garrett K. Gomez
4. Silver Train (KY), 119, Edgar S. Prado
5. Wilko (KY), 117, Kent J. Desormeaux
6. New York Hero (MD), 114, Cornelio H. Velasquez
7. Sir Greeley (KY), 116, Eibar Coa